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A message from the bishop

The family: A domestic Church of life and love (October 2014)
My dear friends,
The family is referred to as the “domestic Church.” It
is in the family that children first learn about God and, as a family, are brought to Church. Their parents, through their word and example, teach them prayers, show them love and extend forgiveness. The family is a critical component of a strong vibrant community, both within the Church and in society. The family is where we first learn to aim at common goals, to respect the needs of others and to ensure that the “common good” is secured before we go very far toward acquiring whatever particular and personal goods we may desire. The first rule we learn in the family, or in groups of families, is to subdue our “wants” and to learn how to share, which diminishes our innate desire for having things all our own way. The second is to collaborate. The third is to subordinate our own interests to the common good as a basic condition for enjoying the
benefits of social groups.
The family faces many challenges, both old and new. These challenges make it difficult for a family to see and embrace the inherent dignity it possesses as a community of life and love. Pope Francis recognizes these “new and urgent pastoral needs facing the family” as our universal Church meets to examine the changing needs of the Catholic family.
Family life is the focus of the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops that will meet at the Vatican Oct. 5-19, 2014. As you will read in a special report on pages 24-25, the synod’s focus is “Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.” Up for discussion will be difficult pastoral situations such as divorce, blended families, same-sex marriage and birth control. The document the bishops will refer to during the synod was created from the results of the questionnaire sent out by the Vatican last November to national bishops’ conferences globally. In the Diocese of Grand Rapids, pastors of each of our 82 parishes responded to the questionnaire after consulting with staff and parishioners. The questionnaire also was made available on the diocesan website, where many offered their insight. The information from our diocese and many others was collated and sent to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops who, in turn, sent the materials to the Vatican.
The question many are asking is: Will the synod change Church teaching on many of these important issues? I would be very surprised if it did. The focus of the synod is not Church teaching, but rather the way the Church pastorally responds to these challenges. Synods are the environment for dialogue and this meeting is in anticipation of the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops one year from now. We will continue to watch what happens in Rome and post updates about the synod on our diocesan website, dioceseofgrandrapids. org, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
In September 2015, the United States will host the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. While not officially confirmed, Archbishop Charles Chaput has expressed his confidence that Pope Francis would be attending the event. Held every three years, this event is the largest Catholic gathering of families and features activities, prayer, worship and celebration. The theme is, “Love Is Our Mission: the Family Is Fully Alive.” These meetings seem to energize and inspire all who attend. I would encourage planning the trip if you are able. Our diocese will be organizing groups to attend the world meeting and more  information will be made available in the coming months.
Finally, I want to bring to your attention a few ways that Catholics in our diocese can help families in need in other parts of the world. More on page 23. First, I want to thank everyone who participated in the special collection in your parish in September to aid victims of the violence and persecution against Christians in the Middle East. Many of these families and individuals are being forced by militant groups to convert to Islam, pay a religious levy or face death. They are being forced to live in vacant homes or buildings with no food, clothing, water or medicine. If you missed the collection, you can still donate on the diocesan website. Your generosity will be  appreciated by families, not too different from your own, who have been placed in the worst of conditions.
Christ’s teaching about marriage and family is truly Good News. It is the duty of the Church to help married couples and families proclaim and live this Good News. Pope Francis has called on the intercessory prayer of the Holy Family of Nazareth to be with the Church during the synod. Let us seek the intercession of Jesus, Mary and Joseph as we grow in our “domestic churches” of life and love, as we support families throughout the world and as we face the challenges experienced in our own families.
Sincerely yours in the Lord,
Most Reverend David J. Walkowiak